Celtics hope to end skid against Knicks

Two old foes with losing records get together on the Red Auerbach court on Friday night in Boston.

“We're not the hardest playing team (anymore),” Boston guard Isaiah Thomas told reporters after the Celtics' second straight blowout loss Wednesday night. “That's what made us good, is us playing harder than other teams, being scrappier, getting all the loose balls. Rebounds don't come to us no more because we're not playing hard.”

The Celtics, who face the New York Knicks in a battle of 3-4 teams Friday night, have been dealing with serious injuries, but got off to a 3-1 start before the early season roof caved in.

Playing without Al Horford and Jae Crowder, Boston has dropped three straight but that's not the worst part of it. In the three games, at Cleveland, at home against the Denver Nuggets and at Washington, the Celtics have allowed an average of 123 points — certainly not the kind of defense coach Brad Stevens is looking for.

And they have been dominated on the boards. At one point in Wednesday's game, radio color commentator Cedric Maxwell screamed, “How about a rebound? Geeeeee.” The Wizards had 19 offensive boards in that game.

The Celtics were outscored 24-23 by one player — Emmanuel Mudiay — in the first quarter as Denver hung 42 points on them in the first 12 minutes. The Celtics then scored eight points in the first quarter at Washington, where they were blown out from the start.

All this from a team projected into the mix for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference.

There have also been injuries to Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk, but the Celtics won without Smart. They NEED Horford, who is making his way back from a concussion, and Crowder (sprained ankle) to be a complete team.

Horford was cleared to return to practice Thursday. He worked out lightly and is not expected to play Friday, even though it's a possibility — while Crowder is said to be about a week away.

“He is progressing. He's feeling a lot better,” Stevens said of Horford

The Knicks got to their 3-4 record with a home win over the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday night — and they came from 14 points down in the first half to do it.

Like the Celtics, the Knicks, who open a two-game road trip Friday night, have had all kinds of defensive problems. Wednesday, they held an opponent under 100 for the first time this season.

“We did a much better job controlling the paint,” said Carmelo Anthony, who got hot in the third quarter to help put his team ahead. “The first half they were getting too much access. We made that adjustment. It was night and day from the first half to the second half.”

While the Celtics have been dealing with injuries, the Knicks have been a work in progress after getting Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

The Knicks are 28th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but the Celtics are 30th and last. Boston is also last in defensive and total rebound percentage.

“We're in a bad funk right now but we can't hold our head,” said Thomas. “… We don't have that swagger no more.”